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Left To Dry

The air is dry, empty. It's neither cold nor hot. There is no wind, no breeze of any kind. The leaves do not rustle; there are no birds chirping. Everything is eerily still. The concrete pathway is smooth and crack-less, clear of any debris. Everything is in order; the grass is cut short, the graves are cleared of bird droppings, of dead flowers. All there is to hear is the sound of my even footsteps.

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.

My breathing is calm, steady. My heart is not racing. My limbs are not shaking. All of my motions are rhythmic and flowing as I follow the path that cuts through the orderly rows and crisscrosses at strict right angles. There are no curves. There is no confusion.

Eventually I come to a stop and I sit cross-legged in front of the grave. I slip off my pale blue bag and set it beside me. I unzip it and take out a basketball. I try to lay it beside the grave but it keeps rolling away, not staying in place, so I press my palm into the earth to create a small indent and place the ball next to the grave again. It stays.

"Hi, Emily," I say in a steady voice. My words don't echo through the graveyard; instead, they die only a few feet away. Which is fitting, because they were only meant for Emily.

"I brought you some presents. Do you remember this?" I ask, pointing to the basketball. "Do you remember when I met you? It was that day so many years ago on the playground. Wow, were you confident. Your tiny pigtails bouncing up and down on the sides of your head, your cut off jeans so frayed from always running around and climbing trees. A splatter of freckles across the bridge of your nose. And your eyes…they were the clearest brown eyes I've ever seen. And I know you didn't think brown eyes could be clear but I swear they were. They were full of passion, of excitement, of love. Of course, I didn't notice any of this that day. It was all the days after that I remembered it.

"You were so tiny, and you looked so fragile, but you came bounding up to me and my friends right in the middle of our basketball game. You said you were gonna play. I said no way. Basketball's not for girls. Your face fell then, and your eyes brimmed with tears. Not one tear leaked out though. Not a single one. And you know what you did then? You snatched that basketball out of my hands, walked right in between the foul line and the three point line, and shot the ball. It spun through the air, soared right through the basket with a swoosh. Then you just walked off without another glance at the basket, at my friends, at me. And I think that's when I knew."

I reach into my bag again and take out a dandelion. It's bright yellow and the stem is bent in half. Like you always said, perfection is overrated.

"Emily," I say again, "After that day at the playground, it took me years to win your friendship. Years of challenging you to try to make that shot again, saying you got lucky. Years of pulling those ever-present pigtails that only grew longer with every passing week because you wanted to be Rapunzel and Rapunzel had long hair. I spent years pestering you, and then one day my dad sat me down and told me that girls don't like having their hair pulled. Girls like flowers. So I picked you some dandelions from the front of my house and brought them to you. You grasped them in your hand and stared at them with your head cocked to the side. Then you smirked and said thank you, because your mom told you to always be polite.

"After that I kept bringing you dandelions every day, even when they turned into those fuzzy white things. You know, the things you blow on and make a wish? Well, you blew them right in my face and said you wished that I would stop bringing you flowers and just be your friend already. After that we were inseparable."

I take a butterfly clip out of my bag. It's a deep shade of green and the right wing is chipping at the corner. I set it down gently in front of the grave.

"You would wear this every single day without fail. I know you heard the other girls in our grade make fun of you behind your back. They said you were childish and needed to grow up. Cut your hair. Stop climbing trees because you're not in preschool anymore. You never liked to conform to what society expected, did you? But that's what made you so interesting, so special. No matter what anyone said about you, that fire never left your eyes. Your passion was always there.

"One day we were sitting in your living room on that big fluffy couch. You were tearing into some poor bag of potato chips, going off about that Christina again. Who does she think she is to say she's better than anyone else, you said. She needs to learn her place, you said. You got so wound up about these other people, I never understood it. But I loved to watch you when you did because you talked twice as fast, waved your hands three times as much, and I don't think you ever stopped for a breath.

"That day, I don't know what got into me. One minute I was listening to you, the next minute I had my lips pressed against yours; hard, passionate. I pulled back and you were left speechless. I think that was the first time I ever got you to shut up. You blinked a couple of times though, slightly confused, slightly dazed, and something else too. You looked at me, you smiled, and you said, ' Adam Johnson, it's about time.' And that was that."

With a deep breath, I reach into my bag one last time and pull out a pair of old, rusted scissors that cut very crudely. I place them in front of the grave.

"Emily," I say too aggressively. I clear my throat and try again, my voice softer. "Emily, I was so happy. Being with you was all I ever wanted. Being with you made everything okay, it made everything bearable. So why-" my voice breaks and I have to stop.

"Four years we were together and everything was great. Then one day you stayed home from school, which wasn't really unusual because you've been skipping school all year. I figured it was just the senioritis getting to you. You started to become more distant, and I assumed your thoughts were just preoccupied with visions of college; you kept saying you couldn't wait to get out of here.

"So that day after school I went to your house. I headed up to your room and opened your door. And I saw you. Your hair was short. Never in all the years I've known you have I seen you with short hair. For a second, no words came to me. Should I compliment you, should I ask what happened? You sat in front of the mirror and stared at yourself. Talking to the mirror, you said that your hair was too long, something had to be done. I asked, 'what about wanting to be Rapunzel?' You said that Rapunzel was a fairytale, and fairytales weren't real. I didn't know what to do, so I sat down next to you and wrapped my arms around you, but you just sat there and kept staring at that girl in the mirror with the short hair.

"The teasing at school was ridiculous. I could see it wearing on you. Your step wasn't as playful anymore. You walked with your head down. And your eyes…there was nothing. The passion was gone. They were so empty.

"I tried to be there for you, I did everything I could think of. I tried to hug you and kiss you, I brought you presents, I took you out every weekend, but I guess it just wasn't enough. Because if it was enough, I wouldn't be here right now.

"Emily…" My voice is full of emotion, my words caught in my throat. "I'll never understand why you took your life. What was so bad that I couldn't help you? Why did you shut me out? I tried to understand so many times but you just wouldn't let me in. And I'm so angry, Emily. I'm so angry at you. How could you leave me alone like this? Alone, sitting in front of your grave." I don't want to be angry. Anger gets me nowhere.

"I will always, always love you Emily. I think you knew that, but maybe it wasn't enough. Maybe one day I'll be able to move on. Because this, sitting here in front of you, not understanding, not knowing…this breaks my heart."

I stand up, zip up my bag, and walk away. I look up at the moon, just beginning to show. It's huge, full of mystery; so vast and complex that no one would ever be able to see it all. And I glance back a few times, because no matter how angry or upset she made me, I'll never leave Emily behind.



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